Seaton Solves The Problem Of Power
From: The Skylark Of Space
"Well, Mart," said Seaton briskly, "now that the Seaton-Crane Company,
Engineers, is organized to your satisfaction, let's hop to it. I suppose
I'd better beat it downtown and hunt up a place to work?"
"Why not work here?"
"Your house? You don't want this kind of experimenting going on around
here, do you? Suppose a chunk of the stuff gets away from me and tears
the side out of the house?"
"This house is the logical place to work. I already have a complete
machine shop and testing laboratory out in the hangar, and we can easily
fit up a chemical laboratory for you up in the tower room. You can have
open windows on four sides there, and if you should accidentally take
out the wall there will be little damage done. We will be alone here,
with the few neighbors so thoroughly accustomed to my mechanical
experiments that they are no longer curious."
"Fine. There's another good thing, too. Your man Shiro. He's been with
you in so many tight pinches in all the unknown corners of the world on
your hunting trips and explorations that we can trust him, and he'll
probably come in handy."
"Yes, we can trust him implicitly. As you know, he is really my friend
instead of my man."
During the next few days, while workmen were installing a complete
chemical laboratory in the tower room, Seaton busied himself in
purchasing the equipment necessary for the peculiar problem before him.
His list was long and varied, ranging from a mighty transformer, capable
of delivering thousands of kilovolts down to a potentiometer, so
sensitive that it would register the difference of potential set up by
two men in shaking hands.
From daylight until dark Seaton worked in the laboratory, either alone
or superintending and assisting the men at work there. Every night when
Crane went to bed he saw Seaton in his room in a haze of smoke, poring
over blueprints or, surrounded by abstruse works upon the calculus and
sub-atomic phenomena, making interminable calculations.
Less than two miles away lived Dorothy Vaneman, who had promised to be
his wife. He had seen her but once since "the impossible" had happened,
since his prosaic copper steam-bath had taken flight under his hand and
pointed the way to a great adventure. In a car his friend was to build,
moved by this stupendous power which he must learn to control, they
would traverse interstellar space--visit strange planets and survey
strange solar systems.
While he did not forget his sweetheart--the thought of her was often in
his mind, and the fact that her future was so intimately connected with
his own gave to every action a new meaning--he had such a multitude of
things to do and was so eager to get them all done at once that day
after day went by and he could not find time to call upon her.
Crane remonstrated in vain. His protests against Seaton's incessant work
had no effect. Seaton insisted that he must fix firmly just a few more
points before they eluded him, and stuck doggedly to his task.
Finally, Crane laid his work aside and went to call upon the girl. He
found her just leaving home, and fell into step beside her. For awhile
she tried to rouse herself to be entertaining, or at least friendly, but
the usual ease with which she chatted had deserted her, and her false
gayety did not deceive the keen-minded Crane for an instant. Soon the
two were silent as they walked along together. Crane's thoughts were on
the beautiful girl beside him, and on the splendid young genius under
his roof, so deeply immersed in his problem that he was insensible to
* * * * *
"I have just left Dick," Crane said suddenly, and paying no attention to
her startled glance. "Did you ever in your life see anyone with his
singleness of purpose? With all his brilliance, one idea at a time is
all that he seems capable of--though that is probably why he is such a
genius. He is working himself insane. Has he told you about leaving the
"No. Has he? Has it anything to do with what happened that day at the
laboratory? I haven't seen him since the accident, or discovery,
whichever it was, happened. He came to see me at half-past ten, when he
was invited for dinner--oh, Martin, I had been so angry!--and he told
such a preposterous story, I've been wondering since if I didn't dream
"No, you didn't dream it, no matter how wild it sounded. He said it, and
it is all true. I cannot explain it to you; Dick himself cannot explain
it, even to me. But I can give you an idea of what we both think it may
"Well, he has discovered something that makes copper act mighty
queer--knocks it off its feet, so to speak. That day a piece went up and
never did come down."
"Yes, that is what is so preposterous!"
"Just a moment, please," replied the imperturbable Crane. "You should
know that nothing ordinary can account for Dick's behavior, and after
what I have seen this last week I shall never again think anything
preposterous. As I said, this piece of copper departed, via the
window, for scenes unknown. As far as a pair of good binoculars could
follow it, it held to a perfectly straight course toward those scenes.
We intend to follow it in some suitable vehicle."
He paused, looking at his companion's face, but she did not speak.
"Building the conveyance is where I come in," he continued in his
matter-of-fact voice. "As you know, I happen to have almost as much
money as Dick has brains, and some day, before the summer is over, we
expect to go somewhere. We do not know where, but it will be a long way
from this earth."
There was a silence, then Dorothy said, helplessly:
"Well, go on.... I can't understand...."
"Neither can I. All I know is that Dick wants to build a heavy steel
hull, and he is going to put something inside it that will take us out
into space. Only occasionally do I see a little light as he tries to
explain the mechanism of the thing to me."
After enjoining upon her the strictest secrecy he repeated the story
that Seaton had told him, and informed her as to the present condition
"It's no wonder the other chemists thought he was crazy, is it, Martin?"
"No, especially after the failure of his demonstration the next morning.
You see, he tried to prove to the others that he was right, and nothing
happened. He has found out since that an electrical machine in another
room, which was not running that morning, played a very important part.
When the copper refused to act as it had the night before they all took
the snap judgment that he had suffered an attack of temporary insanity,
and that the solution was worthless. They called him 'Nobody Holme'."
"It almost fits, at that!" exclaimed Dorothy, laughing.
"But if he thought of that," she added, thoughtfully, "if he was
brilliant enough to build up such a wonderful theory ... think out such
a thing as actually traveling to the stars ... all on such a slight
foundation of fact ... I wonder why he couldn't have told me?"
She hadn't meant to utter the last thought. Nobody must know how being
left out of it had hurt her, and she would have recalled the words if
she could. Crane understood, and answered loyally.
"He will tell you all about it very soon, never fear. His is the mind of
a great scientist, working on a subject of which but very few men have
even an inkling. I am certain that the only reason he thought of me is
that he could not finance the investigation alone. Never think for an
instant that his absorption implies a lack of fondness for you. You are
his anchor, his only hold on known things. In fact, it was about this
that I came to see you. Dick is working himself at a rate that not even
a machine can stand. He eats hardly anything, and if he sleeps at all, I
have never caught him at it. That idea is driving him day and night, and
if he goes on the way he is going, it means a breakdown. I do not know
whether you can make him listen to reason or not--certainly no one else
can. If you think you can do it, that is to be your job, and it will be
the biggest one of the three."
"How well you understand him," Dorothy said, after a pause. "You make me
feel ashamed, Martin. I should have known without being told. Then I
wouldn't have had these nasty little doubts about him."
"I should call them perfectly natural, considering the circumstances,"
he answered. "Men with minds like Dick's are rare. They work on only one
track. Your part will be hard. He will come to you, bursting with news
and aching to tell you all about his theories and facts and
calculations, and you must try to take his mind off the whole thing and
make him think of something else. It looks impossible to me."
* * * * *
The smile had come back to Dorothy's face. Her head, graced by its
wealth of gleaming auburn hair, was borne proudly, and glancing mischief
lit her violet eyes.
"Didn't you just tell me nothing is impossible? You know, Martin, that I
can make Dicky forget everything, even interstellar--did I get that word
right?--space itself, with my violin."
"Trying to beguile a scientist from his hobby is comparable only to
luring a drug addict away from his vice ... but I would not be surprised
if you could do it," he slowly replied.
For he had heard her play. She and Seaton had been caught near his home
by a sudden shower while on horseback, and had dashed in for shelter.
While the rain beat outside and while Shiro was preparing one of his
famous suppers, Crane had suggested that she pass the time by playing
his "fiddle." Dorothy realized, with the first sweep of the bow, that
she was playing a Stradivarius, the like of which she had played before
only in her dreams. She forgot her listeners, forgot the time and the
place, and poured out in her music all the beauty and tenderness of her
nature. Soft and full the tones filled the room, and in Crane's vision
there rose a home filled with happy work, with laughter and
companionship, with playing children who turned their faces to their
mother as do flowers to the light. Sensing the girl's dreams as the
music filled his ears, he realized as never before in his busy,
purposeful life how beautiful a home with the right woman could be. No
thought of love for Dorothy entered his mind, for he knew that the love
existing between her and his friend was of the kind that nothing could
alter, but he felt that she had unwittingly given him a great gift.
Often thereafter in his lonely hours he had imagined that dream-home,
and nothing less than its perfection would ever satisfy him.
For a time they walked on in silence. On Dorothy's face was a tender
look, the reflection of her happy thoughts, and in Crane's mind floated
again the vision of his ideal home, the home whose central figure he was
unable to visualize. At last she turned and placed her hand on his arm.
"You have done a great deal for me--for us," she said simply. "I wish
there were something I could do for you in return."
"You have already done much more than that for me, Dorothy," he
answered, more slowly even than usual. "It is hard for me to express
just what it is, but I want you to know that you and Dick mean much to
me.... You are the first real woman I have ever known, and some day, if
life is good to me, I hope to have some girl as lovely care for me."
Dorothy's sensitive face flushed warmly. So unexpected and sincere was
his praise that it made her feel both proud and humble. She had never
realized that this quiet, apparently unimaginative man had seen all the
ideals she expressed in her music. A woman expects to appear lovely to
her lover, and to the men who would be her lovers if they could, but
here was a man who neither sought nor expected any favors, saying that
he wanted some girl as lovely for his own. Truly it was a compliment to
After they had returned to the house and Crane had taken his departure,
Dorothy heard the purr of a rapidly approaching motorcycle, and her
heart leaped as she went to the door to welcome her lover.
"It seems like a month since I saw you last, sweetheart!" he exclaimed,
as he lifted her clear from the floor in a passionate embrace and kissed
in turn her lips, her eyes, the tip of her nose, the elusive dimple in
her cheek, and the adorable curve of her neck.
"It seems longer than that to me, Dicky. I was perfectly miserable until
Martin called this afternoon and explained what you have been doing."
"Yes, I met him on the way over. But honestly, Dottie, I simply couldn't
get away. I wanted to, the worst way, but everything went so slow...."
"Slow? When you have a whole laboratory installed in a week? What would
you call speed?"
"About two days. And then, there were a lot of little ideas that had to
be nailed down before they got away from me. This is a horribly big job,
Dottie, and when a fellow gets into it he can't quit. But you know that
I love you just the same, even though I do appear to neglect you," he
continued with fierce intensity. I love you with everything there is in
me. "I love you, mind, body and spirit; love you as a man should love
the one and only woman. For you are the only woman, there never was and
never will be another. I love you morally, physically, intellectually,
and every other way there is, for the perfect little darling that you
She moved in his embrace and her arms tightened about his neck.
"You are the nearest thing to absolute perfection that ever came into
this imperfect world," he continued. "Just to think of a girl of your
sheer beauty, your ability, your charm, your all-round perfection, being
engaged to a thing like me, makes me dizzy--but I sure do love you,
little girl of mine. I will love you as long as we live, and afterward,
my soul will love your soul throughout eternity. You know that,
"Oh, Dick!" she whispered, her soul shaken with response to his love. "I
never dreamed it possible for a woman to love as I love you. 'Whither
Her voice failed in the tempest of her emotion, and they clung together
They were finally interrupted by Dorothy's stately and gracious mother,
who came in to greet Seaton and invite him to have dinner with them.
"I knew that Dot would forget such an unimportant matter," she said,
with a glint of Dorothy's own mischief in her eyes.
* * * * *
As they went into the dining-room Dorothy was amazed to see the changes
that six days had wrought in Seaton. His face looked thin, almost
haggard. Fine lines had made their appearance at the corners of his eyes
and around his mouth, and faint but unmistakable blue rings encircled
"You have been working too hard, boy," she reproved him gravely.
"Oh, no," he rejoined lightly. "I'm all right, I never felt better. Why,
I could whip a rattlesnake right now, and give him the first bite!"
She laughed at his reply, but the look of concern did not leave her
face. As soon as they were seated at the table she turned to her father,
a clean-cut, gray-haired man of fifty, known as one of the shrewdest
attorneys in the city.
"Daddy," she demanded, "what do you mean by being elected director in
the Seaton-Crane Company and not telling me anything about it?"
"Daughter," he replied in the same tone, "what do you mean by asking
such a question as that? Don't you know that it is a lawyer's business
to get information, and to give it out only to paying clients? However,
I can tell you all I know about the Seaton-Crane Company without adding
to your store of knowledge at all. I was present at one meeting, gravely
voted 'aye' once, and that is all."
"Didn't you draw up the articles of incorporation?"
"I am doing it, yes; but they don't mean anything. They merely empower
the Company to do anything it wants to, the same as other large
companies do." Then, after a quick but searching glance at Seaton's worn
face and a warning glance at his daughter, he remarked:
"I read in the Star this evening that Enright and Stanwix will
probably make the Australian Davis Cup team, and that the Hawaiian with
the unpronounceable name has broken three or four more world's records.
What do you think of our tennis chances this year, Dick?"
Dorothy flushed, and the conversation, steered by the lawyer into the
safer channels, turned to tennis, swimming, and other sports. Seaton,
whose plate was unobtrusively kept full by Mr. Vaneman, ate such a
dinner as he had not eaten in weeks. After the meal was over they all
went into the spacious living-room, where the men ensconced themselves
in comfortable Morris chairs with long, black cigars between their
teeth, and all four engaged in a spirited discussion of various topics
of the day. After a time, the older couple left the room, the lawyer
going into his study to work, as he always did in the evening.
"Well, Dicky, how's everything?" Dorothy asked, unthinkingly.
The result of this innocent question was astonishing. Seaton leaped to
his feet. The problem, dormant for two hours, was again in complete
possession of his mind.
"Rotten!" he snapped, striding back and forth and brandishing his
half-smoked cigar. "My head is so thick that it takes a thousand years
for an idea to filter into it. I should have the whole thing clear by
this time, but I haven't. There's something, some little factor, that I
can't get. I've almost had it a dozen times, but it always gets away
from me. I know that the force is there and I can liberate it, but I
can't work out a system of control until I can understand exactly why it
acts the way it does." Then, more slowly, thinking aloud rather than
addressing the girl:
"The force is attraction toward all matter, generated by the vibrations
of all the constituent electrons in parallel planes. It is directed
along a line perpendicular to the plane of vibration at its center, and
approaches infinity as the angle theta approaches the limit of Pi
divided by two. Therefore, by shifting the axis of rotation or the plane
of vibration thus making theta vary between the limits of zero and Pi
divided by two...."
He was interrupted by Dorothy, who, mortified by her thoughtlessness in
getting him started, had sprung up and seized him by the arm.
"Sit down, Dicky!" she implored. "Sit down, you're rocking the boat!
Save your mathematics for Martin. Don't you know that I could never find
out why 'x' was equal to 'y' or to anything else in algebra?"
She led him back to his chair, where he drew her down to a seat on the
arm beside him.
"Whom do you love?" she whispered gayly in his ear.
After a time she freed herself.
* * * * *
"I haven't practised today. Don't you want me to play for you a little?"
"Fine business, Dottie. When you play a violin, it talks."
She took down her violin and played; first his favorites, crashing
selections from operas and solos by the great masters, abounding in
harmonies on two strings. Then she changed to reveries and soft,
plaintive melodies. Seaton listened with profound enjoyment. Under the
spell of the music he relaxed, pushed out the footrest of the chair, and
lay back at ease, smoking dreamily. The cigar finished and his hands at
rest, his eyes closed of themselves. The music, now a crooning lullaby,
grew softer and slower, until his deep and regular breathing showed that
he was sound asleep. She stopped playing and sat watching him intently,
her violin in readiness to play again, if he should show the least sign
of waking, but there was no such sign. Freed from the tyranny of the
mighty brain which had been driving it so unmercifully, his body was
making up for many hours of lost sleep.
Assured that he was really asleep, Dorothy tip-toed to her father's
study and quietly went in.
"Daddy, Dick is asleep out there in the chair. What shall we do with
"Good work, Dottie Dimple. I heard you playing him to sleep--you almost
put me to sleep as well. I'll get a blanket and we'll put him to bed
right where he is."
"Dear old Dad," she said softly, sitting on the arm of his chair and
rubbing her cheek against his. "You always did understand, didn't you?"
"I try to, Kitten," he answered, pulling her ear. "Seaton is too good a
man to see go to pieces when it can be prevented. That is why I
signalled you to keep the talk off the company and his work. One of the
best lawyers I ever knew, a real genius, went to pieces that same way.
He was on a big, almost an impossible, case. He couldn't think of
anything else, didn't eat or sleep much for months. He won the case, but
it broke him. But he wasn't in love with a big, red-headed beauty of a
girl, and so didn't have her to fiddle him to sleep.
"Well, I'll go get the blanket," he concluded, with a sudden change in
In a few moments he returned and they went into the living-room
together. Seaton lay in exactly the same position, only the regular
lifting of his powerful chest showing that he was alive.
"I think we had better...."
"Sh ... sh," interrupted the girl in an intense whisper. "You'll wake
him up, Daddy."
"Bosh! You couldn't wake him up with a club. His own name might rouse
him, particularly if you said it; no other ordinary sound would. I
started to say that I think we had better put him to bed on the
davenport. He would be more comfortable."
"But that would surely wake him. And he's so big...."
"Oh, no, it wouldn't, unless I drop him on the floor. And he doesn't
weigh much over two hundred, does he?"
"About ten or eleven pounds."
"Even though I am a lawyer, and old and decrepit, I can still handle
With Dorothy anxiously watching the proceeding and trying to help,
Vaneman picked Seaton up out of the chair, with some effort, and carried
him across the room. The sleeping man muttered as if in protest at being
disturbed, but made no other sign of consciousness. The lawyer then
calmly removed Seaton's shoes and collar, while the girl arranged
pillows under his head and tucked the blanket around him. Vaneman bent a
quizzical glance upon his daughter, under which a flaming blush spread
from her throat to her hair.
"Well," she said, defiantly, "I'm going to, anyway."
"My dear, of course you are. If you didn't, I would disown you."
As her father turned away, Dorothy knelt beside her lover and pressed
her lips tightly to his.
"Good night, sweetheart," she murmured.
"'Night," he muttered in his sleep, as his lips responded faintly to her
Vaneman waited for his daughter, and when she appeared, the blush again
suffusing her face, he put his arm around her.
"Dorothy," he said at the door of her room, using her full name, a very
unusual thing for him, "the father of such a girl as you are hates to
lose her, but I advise you to stick to that boy. Believe in him and
trust him, no matter what happens. He is a real man."
"I know it, Dad ... thank you. I had a touch of the blues today, but I
never will again. I think more of his little finger than I do of all the
other men I ever knew, put together. But how do you know him so well? I
know him, of course, but that's different."
"I have various ways of getting information. I know Dick Seaton better
than you do--better than he knows himself. I have known all about every
man who ever looked at you twice. I have been afraid once or twice that
I would have to take a hand, but you saw them right, just as you see
Seaton right. For some time I have been afraid of the thought of your
marrying, the young men in your social set are such a hopeless lot, but
I am not any more. When I hand my little girl over to her husband next
October I can be really happy with you, instead of anxious for you.
That's how well I know Richard Seaton.... Well, good night, daughter
"Good night, Daddy dear," she replied, throwing her arms around his
neck. "I have the finest Dad a girl ever had, and the finest ... boy.
* * * * *
It was three o'clock the following afternoon when Seaton appeared in the
laboratory. His long rest had removed all the signs of overwork and he
was his alert, vigorous self, but when Crane saw him and called out a
cheery greeting he returned it with a sheepish smile.
"Don't say anything, Martin--I'm thinking it all, and then some. I made
a regular fool of myself last night. Went to sleep in a chair and slept
seventeen hours without a break. I never felt so cheap in my life."
"You were worn out, Dick, and you know it. That sleep put you on your
feet again, and I hope you will have sense enough to take care of
yourself after this. I warn you now, Dick, that if you start any more of
that midnight work I will simply call Dorothy over here and have her
take charge of you."
"That's it, Mart, rub it in. Don't you see that I am flat on my back,
with all four paws in the air? But I'm going to sleep every night. I
promised Dottie to go to bed not later than twelve, if I have to quit
right in the middle of an idea, and I told her that I was coming out to
see her every other evening and every Sunday. But here's the dope. I've
got that missing factor in my theory--got it while I was eating
breakfast this afternoon."
"If you had eaten and slept regularly here and kept yourself fit you
would have seen it before."
"Yes, I guess that's right, too. If I miss a meal or a sleep from now on
I want you to sand-bag me. But never mind that. Here's the explanation.
We doped out before, you know, that the force is something like
magnetism, and is generated when the coil causes the electrons of this
specially-treated copper to vibrate in parallel planes. The knotty point
was what could be the effect of a weak electric current in liberating
the power. I've got it! It shifts the plane of vibration of the
"It is impossible to shift that plane, Dick. It is fixed by physical
state, just as speed is fixed by temperature."
"No, it isn't. That is, it usually is, but in this case it may be
shifted. Here's the mathematical proof."
So saying, Seaton went over to the drafting table, tacked down a huge
sheet of paper, and sketched rapidly, explaining as he drew. Soon the
two men were engaged in a profound mathematical argument. Sheet after
sheet of paper was filled with equations and calculations, and the table
was covered with reference books. After two hours of intense study and
hot discussion Crane's face took on a look of dawning comprehension,
which changed to amazement and then to joy. For the first time in
Seaton's long acquaintance with him, his habitual calm was broken.
"By George!" he cried, shaking Seaton's hand in both of his. "I think
you have it! But how under the sun did you get the idea? That calculus
isn't in any of the books. Where did you get it? Dick, you're a wonder!"
"I don't know how I got the idea, it merely came to me. But that Math is
right--it's got to be right, no other conclusion is possible. Now, if
that calc. is right, and I know it is, do you see how narrow the
permissible limits of shifting are? Look at equation 236. Believe me, I
sure was lucky, that day in the Bureau. It's a wonder I didn't blow up
the whole works. Suppose I hadn't been working with a storage cell that
gave only four amperes at two volts? That's unusually low, you know, for
that kind of work."
* * * * *
Crane carefully studied the equation referred to and figured for a
"In that case the limit would be exactly eight watts. Anything above
that means instant decomposition?"
Crane whistled, a long, low whistle.
"And that bath weighed forty pounds--enough to vaporize the whole
planet. Dick, it cannot be possible."
"It doesn't seem that way, but it is. It certainly makes me turn cold
all over, though, to think of what might have happened. You know now why
I wouldn't touch the solution again until I had this stuff worked out?"
"I certainly do. You should be even more afraid of it now. I don't mind
nitroglycerin or T.N.T., but anything like that is merely a child's
plaything compared to this. Perhaps we had better drop it?"
"Not in seven thousand years. The mere fact that I was so lucky at first
proves that Fate intended this thing to be my oyster. However, I'll not
tempt the old lady any farther. I'm going to start with one millionth of
a volt, and will use a piece of copper visible only under a microscope.
But there's absolutely no danger, now that we know what it is. I can
make it eat out of my hand. Look at this equation here, though. That
being true, it looks as though you could get the same explosive effect
by taking a piece of copper which had once been partially decomposed and
subjecting it to some force, say an extremely heavy current. Again under
the influence of the coil, a small current would explode it, wouldn't
"It looks that way, from those figures."
"Say, wouldn't that make some bullet? Unstabilize a piece of copper in
that way and put it inside a rifle bullet, arranged to make a short
circuit on impact. By making the piece of copper barely visible you
could have the explosive effect of only a few sticks of dynamite--a
piece the size of a pea would obliterate New York City. But that's a
long way from our flying-machine."
"Perhaps not so far as you think. When we explore new worlds it might be
a good idea to have a liberal supply of such ammunition, of various
weights, for emergencies."
"It might, at that. Here's another point in equation 249. Suppose the
unstabilized copper were treated with a very weak current, not strong
enough to explode it? A sort of borderline condition? The energy would
be liberated, apparently, but in an entirely new way. Wonder what would
happen? I can't see from the theory--have to work it out. And here's
another somewhat similar condition, right here, that will need
investigating. I've sure got a lot of experimental work ahead of me
before I'll know anything. How're things going with you?"
"I have the drawings and blue-prints of the ship itself done, and
working sketches of the commercial power-plant. I am working now on the
details, such as navigating instruments, food, water, and air supplies,
special motors, and all of the hundred and one little things that must
be taken into consideration. Then, as soon as you get the power under
control, we will have only to sketch in the details of the power-plant
and its supports before we can begin construction."
"Fine, Mart, that's great. Well, let's get busy!"
Next: Steel Liberates Energy Unexpectedly
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